Where Is God? A Sermon on Why It’s Not Necessary to Believe that Jesus is God

Where Is God? A Sermon on Why It’s Not Necessary to Believe that Jesus is God January 7, 2015

John’s prologue is actually a poem that introduces major themes that will be developed in the unfolding of the story that follows. It is a beautiful poem about the mystery of incarnation.

I love the story about two mischievous boys, Tommy the oldest, Jimmy his little brother. One summer the two boys became quite popular in their community, but not in a good way. Families were waking up to lawns covered in toilet paper. One lady who liked to hang up her laundry to dry found a dead rat hanging next to one of her clean sheets. Something had to be done. So a few members of the community went to the pastor of the church where the boys and their parents attended; the pastor also lived in the neighborhood. “Pastor,” they said, “would you have a talk with the boys.” He reluctantly agreed.

A couple of days later he looked out his living room window and saw Tommy, the oldest, walking up the street. He stepped out of his front door and motioned for Tommy to come inside. Since this was his pastor and he trusted him, he conceded though he was certainly curious why the pastor wanted to talk to him. The Pastor decided to initiate the conversation with a probing question. So he asked, “Tommy, where is God?” Tommy made no response. The pastor asked again . . . again no response. Then a third time with emphasis . . . Tommy raced out the door, down the street, into his house, zipping past his little brother, into his room, and slammed the door. Jimmy had never seen his brother in such a state and decided to see what was going on.

Inside his brother’s room, he noticed the closet door slightly ajar – closed but not all the way. He crept over and just as he started to open it wider, a hand reached out and plucked him out of the air, “Quick, Jimmy, get in here. God is missing and they’re blaming us for it!”

Let me ask you that question: Where is God? If you were having a religious conversation over coffee and someone asked you that question how would you respond? This poem, I think, has something profound to say about that.

This poem does not say that Jesus existed in the beginning with God. It says that the Word – the Greek word here is Logos – existed in the beginning with God. Jesus Is not introduced until verse 14 and is not named until verse 17.

So what did John mean by the Logos? Those familiar with the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish literature most likely would have understood this image in three ways. One, they would have connected the Logos to the creative word in Genesis one where God speaks creation into existence. Two, they would likely have made a connection with the revelatory word of the prophets who often claimed to deliver a revealing word of the Lord. And three, they would have identified the Logos with Divine Wisdom.

In ancient Jewish literature and in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) Divine Wisdom was sometimes personified (symbolized) as a woman who, among other things, was God’s partner and helper in creation. For example, in the book of Proverbs the Divine Wisdom is symbolized (personified) as a woman who “cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice” to offer instruction (Prov. 2:22f). This is what interpreters are referring to when they use the term “Sophia” as a translation for this feminine personification of divine wisdom.

In Proverbs 8 “Sophia”/Lady Wisdom is present when God creates the heavens and the earth. Sophia says: “When God established the heavens I was there . . . when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limits . . . when he marked the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.” This sounds very similar to the poetic language employed in John’s prologue doesn’t it?

So then, according to John, the Logos – the creative, revelatory word of Divine Wisdom becomes incarnate – embodied in flesh and blood – in Jesus of Nazareth. John says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Jesus is named in verse 17: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

So Jesus, as the Logos incarnate, becomes the model, the archetype who incarnates through his body and soul, through his words and deeds, the creative, transforming wisdom of God. This is why we Christians can talk about Jesus being the face of God (not literally of course, but symbolically), because Jesus reveals the character and nature of God – Jesus shows us what God is like.

This beautiful poem is the interpretative key to the rest of the Gospel of John. For example, in John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” In light of the prologue, John 14:6 does not mean that one has to believe certain things about Jesus in order to know God. What it means is that one has to give oneself to the things that Jesus embodied in order to know God. One must give oneself to the grace and truth and love Jesus embodied/incarnated in order to know God. To love selflessly and sacrificially the way Jesus loved is to know God, regardless of what one actually believes about Jesus.

To believe in Jesus in John’s Gospel is not about believing doctrines or propositional statements about Jesus. To believe in Jesus is to trust in and be faithful to the grace and truth and love of God which Jesus revealed, expressed, and incarnated as the Logos, the living Word. True religion is not about believing doctrines; it’s about falling in love with God and learning how to love everyone and everything the way Gods loves everyone and everything. That’s true faith and true religion. And we Christians are not going to help the cause of God in the world until we get that right – namely, that God wants us to do the right things (like loving our neighbor as our self) much more than God cares about our believing the right things.

Now, what is true of Jesus is true of us or can be true of us, because the Logos, the Light and Life that came to expression in Jesus abides in us. Jesus models what can be true for all of us, because the Divine Life resides in us. The light and life that is the Logos dwells in us and longs to be incarnate in us and through us the way it was incarnate in and through Jesus.

John says in verses 4-5 that the Logos “was the light of all people” and it “shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it” – it shines not only in the world in the person of Jesus, it shines in the darkness of our own hearts and souls. This “true light” says John in verse 9 “enlightens everyone.” This is why, as John says in verse 12, we have the power to become children of God. Each one of us has residing in us the Life, Power, and Wisdom of God that can empower us to live as God’s daughters and sons in the world. The very life, power, and wisdom of God abides in you and me.

Why did we need the particular incarnation of the life, wisdom, and power of God in the person of Jesus, if this life, wisdom, and power is available to all of us? Because we needed to see this lived out in flesh and blood. We needed a model, an example, a visible and tangible representation and mediator of this Divine Life lived out among us, and so “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”

I believe that the uniqueness of Jesus’ incarnation is unique only in terms of degree. What you believe about Jesus in terms of his divinity is irrelevant. How you incarnate the Life that found expression in Jesus is what matters. The incarnation of God in Jesus is the incarnation God wants to see in all of God’s children.  

This is what John means, by the way, when he talks about possessing “eternal life” or simply “life.” To possess eternal life is to allow the life of God, the Logos of God, the transforming power, the self-revealing character, and the paradoxical wisdom of God to find a home in us, to creatively dwell and be embodied in our lives and relationships. That’s what it means to possess “life.”

In John 10 Jesus is attacked by the religious leaders for “making himself God.” They want to stone him. In response Jesus doesn’t deny the claim nor does he defend it. He invites them into the same unitive experience he enjoyed by quoting Psalm 82:6. The text reads in John 10:34-36:

Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? [He is quoting the Psalmist who described human beings as gods] If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ – and the scripture cannot be annulled – [Jesus accepts the Psalmist’s depiction of human beings as “gods”; Jesus accepts that in some sense this is true] can you say that the one whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”

Jesus is arguing: If scripture says that human beings are gods, then why are you upset with me because I said I am God’s Son? Jesus is basically arguing that the divine union he experienced with God is God’s intent and design for every human being. He invites them to believe that he is in the Father and the Father is in him and this union with the Divine is true of them as well, they just have to claim it and live in the reality of it. As a result of this interchange the Jewish leaders tried to arrest Jesus. And basically this is how the structures and systems of Christendom have reacted to this message both in the past and the present.

The power structures of religion (this is true of Christianity as well as any other religion) would rather have doctrines to believe, rituals to perform, and policies to enforce, rather than actual union with God. Because actual union with God would mean letting go of our incessant need to control and label and judge and create “in” groups and “out” groups. To be in union with God is to allow the Love of God to fill and overflow in our lives. Being in union with God means allowing the light of God’s grace and truth to expose our dark, hidden parts. It means letting go of our egoism and pride and our false attachments to power, prominence, and possessions. Union with Divine Love means change and who wants to do that?

So let me end where I started. Where is God? Is God up there somewhere in the great Beyond? No, sisters and brothers. The great Beyond is Within. If one of the goals (if not the goal) of Christian spirituality is to be like Jesus, then union with God the way Jesus experienced union with God is not some empty wish upon a star; it really is a human possibility. Sisters and brothers, we are both children of heaven and children of earth, flesh and spirit, divine and human. We are a living paradox, just as Jesus was. Don’t go looking for God up there, look for God in here and let the transforming power, will, and wisdom of God become incarnate in you.  

* * * * * * * * * *

Our good God, it seems too good to be true, that you have taken on human nature, not just in the one we call Messiah and Lord, but in our very hearts, minds, and souls – that your Spirit infuses our spirit. Give us the faith to believe it and claim it. Show us how to be in tune with you, to allow your love and truth and grace to shine forth, to materialize in our bodies, in our work and play, in the way we react and relate to one another, in the habits we develop and in our attitudes and motivations. May the living Word, your transforming power, your self-revealing nature, and your wisdom, find expression in and through our bodies and souls. Amen.

Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to the Unfundamentalist Christians blog at Patheos.


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63 responses to “Where Is God? A Sermon on Why It’s Not Necessary to Believe that Jesus is God”

  1. Why would anyone place their eternal life in the hands of a human who is unable to provide salvation? Only God can do it.

  2. In the Bible, Jesus never claimed to be The God. If he were divine, then he could have been a god but still not The God. If he were The God, he could not have died on the cross.

  3. Chuck, I think you are right in emphasizing righteousness, which is making Jesus Lord by living the inner Christian life. But it should not be at the expense of rejecting propositional truth as you are doing. A righteous life is evidence proving we are genuine Christians. But Acts and the Pauline epistles are clear that it is also essential to BELIEVE in Jesus’ atoning death as a sacrifice for our sins and in his literal, bodily resurrection from the dead.

  4. For years I used to believe everything in the Baptist Faith and Message. When I started studying the Bible concerning those doctrines, I discovered the Bible doesn’t say what I was taught it says. Many of those doctrines are fiat doctrines with poor Biblical support. One of those fiat doctrines that I had to abandon because of a lack of Biblical support was the doctrine that says God is triune.

  5. I don’t interpret Acts and the Pauline epistles that way at all. For me to even consider that such an approach has any validity you would need to answer this question in some way that has validity: Why would God who is beyond our comprehension care about what we believe intellectually about God? Why would it matter? Do you think God wants someone to believe correctly? If that is the case, then God is an awfully petty God. I think, and I base this on the sacred story of Jesus in the Gospels (which informs my understanding of all Scripture) and my intuitive sense of what is right, good, and just, as well what I trust as my own experience of the Divine, that what God wants from us is to be good lovers – to love as God loves. If God is Love, if that is the essential nature of God, as I believe, than loving one another, taking care of one another and our planet is what God cares about – not what we believe about this or that doctrine, etc.

  6. That is why I trust God and strive to love the way God loves (though i fail miserably to love as God loves). Real salvation is healing and liberation from all the hate, injustice, greed, prejudice, and condemnation in the world.

  7. Who would want to study up on the kind of religion you are peddling? Thankfully I have been “saved” from such toxic faith.

  8. Trilemma, trust your “inner authority” as you read and meditate on the story of Jesus in the Gospels. You will most likely be led to many new places. And it is so liberating.

  9. You are dead wrong, sir. The heart of the Christian message is personal salvation leading to eternal life. The Philippian jailor asked the imprisoned apostles Paul and Silas, “‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved.’ They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved'” (Acts 16.30-31). Believe what? Paul later wrote to the saints at Rome, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Roman 10.9). If that isn’t propositional truth to its maxim, I don’t know what is. As I said, I believe in living a righteous life and doing good to others, but if that is enough to unite people to God, then Jesus did not have to die a most shameful, painful, and wretched death on a cross.

  10. You haven’t attempted to answer the question of why God would want someone to believe correctly and why that would make a difference? All you have done is quote Scripture which you have made to fit your understanding. Quoting scripture that simply confirms your already determined beliefs is no response. Tell me why you think (use your own mind here, don’t give me some stock answer you have been taught by your church) God would care what we believe, more than how we actually live and love.

  11. The New Testament says very clearly that humans are separated from God because of their sins and that Jesus died on the cross as Savior for those who believe it. It all comes down to whether or not you believe this most important message of the Bible. But if you reject it, there is no hope for you now or in the afterlife. Since you obviously are hardened against this message, I have better things to do with my time than to continue this discussion. Incidentally, I don’t believe what I do because of some pastor of a church. I’ve been a Christian for 60 years, a serious Bible student for over 55 years, I have my own blog here at patheos, Kermit Zarley Blog, I was a pioneer in bringing Christianity to American professional sports, and I am the author of six theological books.

  12. I simply do not interpret the NT the way you do. But you still have not attempted to respond to my question: Why do you think God cares about our having correct beliefs about sin, God, Jesus, etc.? Why would God care about what I believe about Jesus’ death? Why would that make any difference to God? Surely God cares most about how well we love one another, about our involvement to correct injustices, the ways we show compassion, etc. I don’t have to believe any of things you believe to be a loving, caring, compassionate persons who is committed to what is good. Surely that is more important to God. What say ye?

  13. I’m sure your books and your blog and your many accomplishments are sources of much pride. But your 55 years of serious bible study seems to have put you in a place where nobody can teach you anything new, including God.

  14. Please don’t be sad, God isn’t. Really. I hope your God image does you and the people you live with more good than harm.

  15. By “His Word” I assume you mean the Bible. So why are you convinced beyond any doubt that you personal interpretation and opinion of what the Bible says is the truth?

  16. I am open to anyone who scripturally supports their assertion. Scripture tells us that Jesus is God. I have failed to see any cogent case made otherwise.

  17. God weeps with and for those who suffer injustice, evil, and great pain. God cares about our engagement to help alleviate such suffering. God doesn’t care about our squabbles about who is correct in what we believe. Such squabbles just keep us from being like God and sharing God’s love and compassion.

  18. Mark 10:17-18: “‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.'” Jesus says in this Scripture that he is not good, only God is good. Jesus is clearly not God in this text.

  19. Yes you have simple tele misinterpreted the words of Jesus. He asked the question because calling him good called him God And he was trying to get the man to recognize his divinity. He did not and left sad. It actually proves my point thanks!

  20. Lol! Amazing interpretative gymnastics. Doesn’t make a bit of sense, but if it makes you feel right . . .

  21. I understand that there is a compelling argument from the Bible that Jesus is god. What I don’t see is a compelling argument that Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons in one single god. That makes God look like he has multiple personality disorder.

  22. I admit it’s a hard concept to wrap our heads around but there is scriptural support for the trinity. Why is that important to you? So what if it’s true? How does it change your faith?

  23. The scriptural support for the Trinity is not compelling to me. It is more supportive of the assertion that there are two separate and distinct gods, one with less authority than the other. It’s important because if the trinity is false, then worshiping Jesus as the one true god instead of the Father would be idolatry.

  24. Chuck, that’s about like asking why God created the universe. The Bible doesn’t say, so it’s not important for us to know. What matters is that he did, then sin afterwards came into the world resulting in desease and physical death, but more importantly separation from God. God then instituted the remedy for this tragic situation–the shedding of blood of animal sacrifices as redemption from sin. But the New Testament teaches clearly that animal sacrifices could not take away sin but were only a temporary propitiation for sin. Jesus fulfilled the symbolism of those sacrifices by agreeing with God in sending him to sacrifice his own self on the cross as the Lamb God bearing the sins of those who believe in his sacrifice. Thus, believing in Jesus as Savior is the absolute most important thing any human being can ever do because God himself has made this important.

    It’s like someone who is terminally ill with cancer, and God has a pharacuetical drug with no bad side affects that will completely cure that cancer. He offers it to the person. It’s now up to that person whether or not he/she accepts the offer and takes the remedy. If he/she does, that person will live; if not, that person will die.

  25. What God cares about is the individual. If the person knows God and seeks forgiveness they are forgiven. If the person does not seek forgiveness they are not forgiven. You ask why God would desire that man knows the truth and correct doctrine, but I think you are asking the wrong question here. What is important is to believe so that one seeks Gods forgiveness. If one has incorrect beliefs that causes one to to seek forgiveness it is a bad belief and harmful because it leads a person away from the forgiveness of sins.

    Doctrine is important because it teaches us about who God is and what He desires for us. When it is wrong it obscures the forgiveness of sins, and what Christ Jesus has done for us, die for our sins.

  26. It’s only the wrong question because you don’t have an adequate answer. Correct beliefs have nothing to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness is offered in love and can be unconditional, like Jesus forgiving his tormentors on the cross. To be experienced one much receive it and that requires some admission of hurt inflicted and offense done to the relationship. What one believes about God is irrelevant. The only thing one must believe is that God is a forgiving God. And of course you still have not answered the question. Why would God care more about what one believes about God, than God cares how we love and treat one another? You don’t have to know doctrine to know that God is love and wants us to love one another more than anything else. Want to try again?

  27. All you are doing is spitting out the doctrines fundamentalists/conservatives believe without offering any explanation other than this is what the Bible says (and of course it is what you believe the Bible says; your interpretation of what the Bible says). And you haven’t answered the question, which is why progressives and thinking people are dismissive of conservative beliefs that emphasize Christian faith as dogma – believing the right things. It’s a rather simple question: Why would the God of this universe be more interested in what a person believes about God, Jesus, the Bible, anything else, than how we actually love and treat one another? Whenever conservatives can offer some “reasonable” explanation to that question, they might get a hearing with progressives and people who believe God gave us minds to use our common sense, reason, basic intuition, and the truth that resonates in our deepest self to figure out God’s will.

  28. How does one receive forgiveness if a person doesn’t believe that they have sinned or if a person/deity can grant that forgiveness? It is the beliefs and the understandings of who the deity is that provides that. If a person does not believe are they going to seek forgiveness?

    Does God care about us believing correctly or about how we love and care for one another, that is a good question. The answer comes down to what it means to care for an individual. Does a person caring for another mean allowing them to live the way that they want? Does it mean allowing them to state what is best for them as opposed to correcting them? If you go by society and what is being advanced that is hatred. I would state that it is harmful for the individual to be told that they are fine. It comes down to allowing the person to remain in the state of living in sin as opposed to one of repentance.

  29. So, what you are saying is that you show you love someone by getting that person to believe like you do? That’s not love, that’s manipulation. God loves unconditionally and wants us to love that way too. So once again, you haven’t answered the question. You haven’t explained why God would want people to believe certain things, more than God would want us to really love one another and work for what is good, fair, just, and right.

    Forgiveness, doesn’t work on the basis of belief. It works on the basis of admission/confession that one has done something to hurt someone. The only thing one has to believe to be forgiven, is to believe the person who is forgiving really means it. And God is forgiving us each one everyday whether we ask for it or not. We have to acknowledge our need to experience it, but God forgives because God is a forgiving God. Forgiveness is about restoring relationships and healing wounds, not about believing doctrines.

  30. Great stuff Chuck. This same idea is exhibited in 1 John: “Beloved, let us love one another, for
    love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He
    who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love” and “This
    is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. One who says, “I
    know him,” and doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn’t in
    him.”

    Knowing God is all about how we perceive and live our lives; it has zilch to do with adhesion to doctrinal claims or “getting saved.”

  31. Salvation leading to eternal life? You do realize Paul didn’t even believe in “heaven” as a destination of souls in the afterlife, right? That arose decades later among the Platonic-educated Greek Fathers.

  32. Unless you know God, accepted Jesus and receive salvation you cannot even know what real love is and therefore cannot really love anyone.

  33. Andrew, I agree. For thirty years I believed in the immortality of humans souls and that the souls of Christians go to heaven when they die to enjoy conscious bliss. But it was only because that is what I was taught. Then I attended a conference on this subject in about 1989 and became convinced in so-called “soul sleep” because I believe that is what is taught in the Bible. The Old Testament is so clear on this, that at death all human souls to Sheol to await resurrection, some to eternal immortality and others to perishing. Thus, I also no longer believe that all unbelievers suffer throughout eternity but that there is annihilation (“perish” in John 3.16).

  34. How silly. I know quite a few Christians who believe the same things you believe, who are not loving at all. And I know non-Christians who are more loving, kind, generous, and compassionate than most Christians I know. This complete disconnect between belief and love in many Christians (a large majority being fundamentalist/conservative) is one reason so many are giving up on the church or see no need to be part of one.

  35. What does it mean to really love someone? Is It to allow them to continue down the path they are on? Or is it to tell them they are going down the wrong path?

  36. Coherence, reason, and a common sense approach are not the strong points of fundamentalism. LoL.

  37. NIV Ecclesiastes 6:11 The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? (Ecc 6:11 NIV)

    “… that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” (1Co 4:6 NIV)

    NAsb 2 John 1:9 “Anyone who goes too far… ” (2Jo 1:9 NASB)

  38. Exactly. Jesus is God and the only path to salvation. Nothing more needs to be added to the process of salvation.

  39. And actually, the idea that correct (doctrinal) belief is necessary for salvation is practical gnosticism anyway, not Christianity.

  40. But the problem here is that truth is not propositional, although I know that unfortunately many Christians share this erroneous assumption. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” he wasn’t referring to a proposition, he was referring to a person (himself)

  41. Which lines up perfectly with the statement in Matthew where He says, “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”

  42. This is one of the best short and readable explanations I’ve ever read about the Johannine Prologue. Free from complex and alien philosophical conundrums about essences and natures and persons. Who would have known that the Gentile sabotage of Jewish (mystical) Christianity would have enslaved billions of people over nearly 20 centuries while hardly ever healing, embracing, and bearing the wounds of humanity? The demise of conservative Christianity is the true hope of mankind.